Uncle Tom's Cabin

Uncle Tom's Cabin

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Freedom Theme Analysis

Themes and Colors
Slavery and Race Theme Icon
Christianity and Christian Charity Theme Icon
Women Theme Icon
Home Theme Icon
Freedom Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in Uncle Tom's Cabin, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Freedom Theme Icon

Freedom is a central and complex concept in Uncle Tom's Cabin. Slaves wish to be free, and abolitionists in the novel wish also to free the slaves. But, as St. Clare points out, what is to be done after the abolition of slavery? Is it enough simply to release the slaves, to let them do as they wish?

George Harris argues for the colonization of Liberia by freed slaves. Many thought this a viable option before and after the Civil War. George Shelby eventually frees his father's slaves but allows them to live and work on the family estate for a wage, with the ability to choose to leave. This is an improvement over slavery, but it looks quite a bit like slavery or serfdom, as was the case with sharecropping in the South after the Civil War. Beecher Stowe also asks whether freedom might be possible while still under the yoke of slavery.

Some despairing slaves, like Cassy, believe at first that slavery has taken their souls, their humanity. But Uncle Tom declares that his soul will always remain free, that Legree can do nothing to destroy it. In this sense, Tom remains the master of himself. Conversely, the author implies that slavery can make slaves of its masters. St. Clare believes slavery degrades everyone though he is mostly powerless to stop it; his wife claims her slaves are a plague, even as she thinks she cannot live without them.

To Beecher Stowe, freedom is a spectrum, not an on-off switch between Free and Enslaved. The goal of society is human betterment—the creation of a more Christian country—and in achieving such a country, Beecher Stowe believes, more people will gain the ability to direct their own lives, to live with charity and goodness, to work according to their inclination, and to raise their own families. This deepens freedom for all. But these improvements are possible only in a country itself freed from the scourge of slavery.

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Freedom Quotes in Uncle Tom's Cabin

Below you will find the important quotes in Uncle Tom's Cabin related to the theme of Freedom.
Chapter 2: The Mother Quotes

O yes!—a machine for saving work, is it? He’d invent that, I’ll be bound; let a nigger alone for that, any time.

Related Characters: George Harris
Page Number: 14
Explanation and Analysis:

George's master will use any excuse possible to find a way to denigrate George and limit his freedom. George is a gifted engineer and inventor, and his machine really does save people time - enormous amounts of time. But George's owner (who is clearly jealous of his slave's intelligence) makes it seem that this invention is only created so that George can be "lazier." Of course, this discounts the ingenuity and work that goes into making machines like this. Here, the narrator makes clear that slave ownership is often predicated on a total lack of logic - on a system that supports itself by asserting that African Americans are inherently less valuable, intelligent, and even human than white Americans, even though there is no evidence to support this contention at all.

Slavery is therefore a system that sustains itself and perpetuates itself according to a code followed by white slave-owners, even by the "kind" ones. This system does not allow African Americans to express human emotions or aspirations, and denies that these emotions or aspirations are possible for them - even when African American characters clearly demonstrate a full range of human experience and creativity. 


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Chapter 3: The Husband and Father Quotes

I an’t a Christian like you, Eliza; my heart’s full of bitterness; I can’t trust in God. Why does he let things be so?

Related Characters: George Harris (speaker), Eliza Harris
Page Number: 19
Explanation and Analysis:

Christian faith will be a key element in the novel, one that is returned to again and again by different characters and in different contexts. Here, George wonders aloud how a Christian God could allow the kind of injustice he observes in a slave system - how this might be possible if God is indeed on earth to protect all his children. Eliza, for her part, has an easier, though not entirely easy, job believing in God - her faith and position are more secure than George's, and she believes that, eventually, God will provide a way forward for them, for a life beyond slavery.

George and Eliza's romance is one of the central narrative axes of the novel. It is a love that is separated, again, by something so cruel and impersonal as a debt between two white men. And although Shelby is somewhat hurt by the idea of losing Uncle Tom and Eliza - because he does have a fondness for them - he believes that it is more important to protect "his honor" with Haley than it is to maintain Eliza and George's marriage on his farm. 

Chapter 7: The Mother’s Struggle Quotes

Besides, I don’t see no kind of ‘casion for me to be hunter and catcher for other folks, neither.

Related Characters: Mr. Symmes (speaker)
Page Number: 69
Explanation and Analysis:

Mr. Symmes is a neighbor of the Shelby family. He lives close to the Ohio River, and is on the Ohio side, the "free" side, as Ohio does not participate in the slave economy. Symmes behaves here in a manner that, importantly, is in violation of one of the primary laws of the time - the Fugitive Slave Act, which forced any person to return an escaped slave to the South, if confronted with that escapee (since slaves were, in the eyes of the courts at that time, "property"). Thus, by this brutal and inhumane logic, any person helping an escaped slave was helping in the "theft of property."

Symmes, of course, does not ascribe to this logic. He feels that Eliza wishes to be free, along with her child - and he is not going to return them to a man, Haley, whom he knows to be a brutal and overbearing master. Thus Symmes' act is one of heroism, and a notable one in the novel. 

Chapter 8: Eliza’s Escape Quotes

Run up a bill with the devil all your life, and then sneak out when pay time comes! Boh!

Related Characters: Tom Loker (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Bible
Page Number: 75
Explanation and Analysis:

Loker, speaking to his friend Marks, who also looks for escaped slaves (like Loker does), argues an interesting and perhaps nonsensical view of human morality here. Loker believes that slavery is, of itself, not a moral thing. It is a system, instead, that relies on human cruelty and violence. It is one where humans own and exploit other human beings. Thus, catching escaped slaves is another brutal part of a brutal business. If Loker doesn't believe that his job is just or right, he also doesn't believe that it's any worse than any other aspect of the slave trade. It is simply one more component in a world that is far from any Christian ideal.

Although Loker's arguments are brutal, there is a simplicity and a clarity to them also. He does not make any claims for the moral high ground, as some defenders of slavery in the South did at the time. For this, in a very small way, Loker's views are at least comprehensible, even if they are also certainly reprehensible.

Chapter 9: In Which It Appears That a Senator is but a Man Quotes

You ought to be ashamed, John! Poor, homeless, houseless creatures! It’s a shameful, wicked, abominable law, and I’ll break it, for one, the first time I get a chance . . . .

Related Characters: Senator and Mrs. Bird (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Bible
Page Number: 90
Explanation and Analysis:

This is another instance of well-intentioned and impassioned argument by white Americans, wondering what is ethical and right in the face of human bondage occurring in the South. Mrs. Bird, whose husband is a Senator, believes that any law preventing people from helping fugitive slaves, in a free state like Ohio or in any state, is deeply immoral. But the Senator argues, for his part, that though he also feels this way, he has other obligations as a Senator. One of them is to preserve the balance of power between states in the United States - it is, in short, to avoid war.

Of course, the reader today understands that war could not be avoided, and that Senator Bird's theory, in this case, proved incorrect. For there was no amount of moderation that could prevent the conflict between free and slave states from spilling over. There could be no ultimate compromise on the issue of human freedom and inequality. And this latter position seems to align more closely with Mrs. Bird's -- another example of a woman taking a more sympathetic view on slavery than the novel's men. 

Chapter 12: Select Incident of Lawful Trade Quotes

I know this yer comes kinder hard, at first, Lucy . . . but such a smart, sensible gal as you are, won’t give way to it. You see it’s necessary, and can’t be helped!

Related Characters: Haley (speaker), Lucy, or “Luce”
Page Number: 147
Explanation and Analysis:

Haley has bought Lucy's child but not Lucy - thus, he has separated mother from child. This kind of separation is a central part of the novel, and is portrayed by the author as one of the essential cruelties of slavery - that African American families can be broken apart simply by the will of white men and owners, who seem not even to believe that African Americans can have any kind of family feeling at all. 

Haley attempts to "reason" with Lucy, telling her that nothing else could be done, that he is a businessman and businessmen must profit by things. If this profit comes at the expense of her own happiness, or of the prospect of her life with her child, then that's an unfortunate thing, but it's simply the way the system is designed to work. The author here shows that the logic even of "benevolent" slavery is a terrible and brutal logic, producing only suffering and dehumanization for African Americans. 

Chapter 15: Of Tom’s New Master, and Various Other Matters Quotes

Of course, in a novel, people’s hearts break, and they die, and that is the end of it . . . . But in real life we do not die when all that makes life bright dies to us.

Page Number: 175
Explanation and Analysis:

This is an instance of "meta-narrative," for the author of this novel mentions other novels in which heroes or heroines undergo misfortunes and then perish. This reference to novels within the novel is designed to increase the "realism" of the scene, to make it such that the reader believes characters like Augustine really do exist in "life."

Augustine fell in love with a "northern woman" who broke his heart, and then "settled" for Marie, his current wife. Marie was very beautiful but also unloving, both toward Augustine and toward their daughter. Marie, further, was and is immensely cruel to the slaves the family owns - she does not believe that they are people, nor that they are worthy of any kind of respect.

Thus Augustine's choice to marry Marie is a fateful one, for it seals for him a great many years of unhappiness, and, perhaps more importantly for the narrative, it makes it impossible for Augustine to free his slaves so long as Marie has a say in the matter. 

Chapter 16: Tom’s Mistress and Her Opinions Quotes

It’s we mistresses that are the slaves, down here.

Related Characters: Marie St. Clare (speaker)
Page Number: 191
Explanation and Analysis:

This quote is an indication of just how out-of-touch Marie St. Claire is - how little she recognizes the plight of the slaves her family owns. Marie genuinely believes that her own physical ailments (whose exact nature is never described; they might very well be imaginary) to be far more difficult to manage than any problem encountered by Mammy or the other slaves in the house. Marie must know that there is a difference between being a free person and being enslaved - thus, it might be inferred, and is later demonstrated in this chapter, that Marie simply believes white people to be morally and intellectually superior to black people.

As with Loker in the previous chapters, Marie seems all too ready to embrace the underlying cruelty of a slave system. The system is hard to defend if one resorts to moral arguments about "protecting" slaves. But if, like Marie, one believes slaves to be naturally inferior to whites, then this cruel and inhumane standpoint at least makes the idea of slavery a workable one. 

Chapter 17: The Free Man’s Defense Quotes

But you haven’t got us. We don’t own your laws; we don’t own your country; we stand here as free, under God’s sky, as you are; and, by the great God that made us, we’ll fight for our liberty till we die.

Related Characters: George Harris (speaker), Tom Loker, Marks
Page Number: 224
Explanation and Analysis:

George delivers this speech from a mountain-top to Loker, Marks, and the very idea of a "slave-catcher" attempting to hunt down and return a human being. George has learned a great deal from the Quakers, and he has also seen awakened within him his natural inclinations and passions - George knew all along that he was more than the equal of those around him, and his engineering skill and efforts around the farm demonstrated to him that he could do, think, and say whatever he pleased.

Thus George fights back against the notion that African Americans are in any way inferior to white Americans. This chapter, coming as it does on the heels of Marie's description of African American inferiority, serves as an important juxtaposition - a reminder of the slaves and former slaves who find occupations in the North and in Canada, and who move beyond the yoke of slavery into more fulfilling lives. 

Chapter 19: Miss Ophelia’s Experience and Opinions (Continued) Quotes

On this abstract question of slavery there can, as I think, be but one opinion. Planters, who have money to make by it—clergymen, who have planters to please—politicians, who want to rule by it—may warp and bend language . . . they can press nature and the Bible . . . into their service; but, after all, neither they nor the world believe in it one particle the more.

Related Characters: Augustine St. Clare (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Bible
Page Number: 252
Explanation and Analysis:

Augustine makes plain exactly the intellectual system that allows people in the South to defend the practice of slavery. For Augustine, the system is not a "natural" one, and it does not derive from any inferiority of African Americans to white Americans. Instead, slavery is a business system, an interaction of those who own land and capital (the plantation owners) and those who would, under different circumstances, sell their labor to the farms (the slaves). Under the system, as Augustine notes, owners have taken away the workers ability to work where they please - they have established instead a system of rules that prevent the recognition even of the humanity of the workers. This has not been done in accordance with any universal principle, and it is by no means the only way for the world to work. It is, instead, the way the South works at this moment - and all the moral or religious arguments defending slavery come after this economic reality, not before. Though Augustine sees the truth of his society, he despairs at the thought of the Southern system changing any time soon. 

Chapter 20: Topsy Quotes

But, of course, I didn’t want you to confess things you didn’t do . . . that’s telling a lie, just as much as the other.

Related Characters: Miss Ophelia (speaker), Topsy
Page Number: 279
Explanation and Analysis:

A complicated section in the novel. Miss Ophelia says that she will go about "civilizing" Topsy, attempting to make her less of a "heathen" and more of a "good Christian girl." This teaching, of course, requires a great many assumptions on Miss Ophelia's part. She believes that Topsy is naturally inclined to evil or wickedness, just as Eva is naturally inclined to goodness. And it is hard to read those "natural" inclinations as anything other than outgrowths, for Miss Ophelia, of the skin color of those two girls. Thus, although Miss Ophelia seems genuinely to want to help Topsy, her teaching is also inflected with the idea that white Americans are superior to African Americans, and that it is the duty of white Americans to "help" slaves whenever they can.

This notion of beneficent teaching, as above, is an aspect of the novel that has not aged well over the years - that is now seen as a paternalistic or condescending view of the relationship between black and white Americans. 

Laws, now, is it?

Related Characters: Topsy (speaker)
Page Number: 279
Explanation and Analysis:

The story is here told from Topsy's perspective. In the narrative Topsy appears to have a more fluid relationship to the truth, but there is a reason for this - as Topsy argues, she merely wants to say or do the thing that will make Miss Ophelia happy, because, at root, Topsy really does want Miss Ophelia to like her. What is exasperating to her teacher, of course, is Topsy's willingness to bend the truth in order to say the thing that Miss Ophelia might want to hear. Topsy's response in this section, then - "Laws, now, is it?" - is a coy one, indicating that Topsy has known all along she hasn't been truthful - but that being truthful, for Topsy, is not the most important thing.

Again, this section seems to validate a preconception about African Americans, common even to abolitionists of the time - that black people were more inclined to bend the truth to appease people in power. This, of course, is not true - and even if in particular instances that might occur, it is, as in Topsy's case, an indicator of wanting to please a person in a position of authority, as opposed to any inherent "wickedness."

Chapter 24: Foreshadowings Quotes

It’s jest no use tryin’ to keep Miss Eva here . . . She’s got the Lord’s mark in her forehead.

Related Characters: Uncle Tom (speaker), Eva St. Clare
Page Number: 313
Explanation and Analysis:

Tom and Eva grow very close as Tom continues to live in the St. Claire house. Indeed, Tom and Eva are linked as sacrificial, Christ-like figures in the narrative. Each seems almost "too good for this earth" - each is an embodiment of Christian ideals of selflessness and love of one's fellow person greater than one's self-love. Thus the reader tends to believe Tom when he recognizes in Eva this form of saintliness.

Of course, Eva's goodness, along with Tom's, really is "too good" to be true - there perhaps never has been a person as selfless as Tom or Eva. They are not meant to be characters in the novel so much as walking, breathing symbols, embodiments of Jesus's teachings. Against their example, the immoral schemings of slave-holders might better stand out. This, then, is Beecher Stowe's logic in presenting these characters are morally perfect - they underscore just how imperfect and vile the slave system in America is. 

Chapter 29: The Unprotected Quotes

Now, I’m principled against emancipating, in any case. Keep a Negro under the care of a master, and he does well enough . . . but set them free, and they get lazy, and won’t work, and take to drinking . . . .

Related Characters: Marie St. Clare (speaker)
Page Number: 369
Explanation and Analysis:

This scene is part of one of the great tragedies of the novel. St. Claire had vowed, at his saintly daughter's urging, to release those slaves of his he had owned. In other words, before his own untimely death he had committed to becoming a better person, and to doing right to those who lived under his roof. But Marie has made no such conversion. And because after Augustine's death Marie now controls the house, she sees to it that no slave will ever be released from there.

What is most upsetting about this resolve is the explanation Marie provides. She says that she does not wish to harm any of the African Americans under her "care," and she wants them to work rather than to "be lazy," which she believes is the natural state of any black person who is not living within a slave system. The blatant cruelty and falsity of these statements does nothing to keep Marie from wielding absolute power, unfortunately, and so her slaves realize they will not be freed after all. 

Chapter 33: Cassy Quotes

Mas’r, if you mean to kill me, kill me; but, as to my raising my hand agin any one here, I never shall,—I’ll die first!”

Related Characters: Uncle Tom (speaker), Simon Legree
Related Symbols: The Bible
Page Number: 406
Explanation and Analysis:

One of the most important scenes in the novel. This is a moment in which Tom most fully demonstrates his commitment to Christian teachings. It is also the moment when he is most Christ-like - refusing to protect himself in order to protect another person. Tom does not have a violent bone in his body, and it is inconceivable for him to harm another person in order to save his own skin. He cannot do it.

This moment is so affecting because here Tom's commitment to the health and wellbeing of another person is believable - it is an enormous moral burden for him to bear, but it does seem at least plausible that someone in his situation might respond in this way. One need not be a saint to do this - one need only be a committed, emotionally strong, and generous human being. Thus Tom (and Stowe) achieves maximum pathos, or fellow-feeling, in this section. 

Chapter 38: The Victory Quotes

Utmost agony, woe, degradation, want, and loss of all things, shall only hasten on the process by which he [the slave] shall be made a king and a priest unto God!

Page Number: 446
Explanation and Analysis:

This is an instance in which Beecher Stowe, as the narrator, inserts herself into the telling of the novel. Here, she argues that it would have been much easier for Tom simply to die, rather than to continue to live and to suffer. Beecher Stowe argues, moreover, that the suffering Tom undergoes will not necessarily make him stronger in this life, but will contribute to his heavenly reward - that these are the things that will make him, after death, into a saint.

Thus the Christian allegory in the novel becomes most pronounced in these chapters. Beecher Stowe makes no bones about presenting Tom as a figure of Christ-like power, and his ability to bear the burden of suffering for others, even unto death, is one the narrator finds deeply moving and appealing. Further, Beecher Stowe does not argue that everyone has to be like Tom in all senses - but she does state that everyone can learn from the selflessness of Tom's example. 

Chapter 43: Results Quotes

I trust that the development of Africa is to be essentially a Christian one. If not a dominant and commanding race, they are, at least, an affectionate, magnanimous, and forgiving one.

Related Characters: George Harris (speaker)
Page Number: 494
Explanation and Analysis:

George believes that the best way for his family to grow and prosper is for that family to "give back" to African communities in Africa - to argue for a "Christian" project that helps those living in Africa to live good lives. On the one hand, George believes he is continuing on the mission that helped to save his life - he is following in the footsteps of the Quakers who helped him. 

But, again, viewed according to contemporary ideas, this section is at best problematic, because it shows that, even after escaping slavery, George is more interested in applying Western (and white) thought-systems to black experience in Africa. This does not mean that George willingly goes to Africa to "colonize" it, or to harm anyone - indeed, he only wishes to help. But the nature of his good works, which might have seemed straightforward in Beecher Stowe's time, might today be viewed with suspicion, as though George were going to Africa merely to spread Christian doctrine to a group of people who, largely, did not ask to receive this doctrine or invasive cultural influence. 

Chapter 45: Concluding Remarks Quotes

A day of grace is yet held out to us. Both North and South have been guilty before God; and the Christian church has a heavy account to answer . . . .For, not surer is the eternal law by which the millstone sinks in the ocean, than that stronger law, by which injustice and cruelty shall bring on nations the wrath of Almighty God!

Related Symbols: The Bible
Page Number: 511
Explanation and Analysis:

In this section Beecher Stowe speaks in her own voice, and prophetically, as one who has created in the novel a parable of good and evil in America in the middle of the nineteenth century. Beecher Stowe has attempted to create both a "realistic" and an allegorical work - one that reflects society as it was at the time, and shows the battles of good and evil that existed in that society in symbolic terms.

Beecher Stowe believes that this conflict of slavery vs. freedom can only end in some form of cataclysm. There were increasingly in the 1840s and 1850s those who thought the same way, and were willing, in the North, to take a harder line against slavery in the South. Although there were a great many factors leading to the Civil War (nearly all of which did revolve in one way or another around the issue of enslavement of African Americans), Beecher Stowe's novel, problematic though it might be, is now seen as a spark that presented the issues of slavery to a wide reading public - and helped pave the way for the long struggle of equal rights for all Americans.